Strictly Ballroom the Musical
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Until May, 2015
In a world that’s more gloom than glam right now, the arrival of Baz Lurhmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical to Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre is a breath of fresh and fabulous air. The familiar but feel-good themes of rising against the odds and being true to yourself combined with lashings of kitsch, colour and catchy tunes are a winning formula for a crowd pleasing production that’ll have them, in Baz’s words, dancing in the aisles.
There was no actual aisle dancing on this night, but the audience were whipped into enough of a fantastical frenzy to stand, clap, sway and sing along to the rousing John Paul Young mega-hit ‘Love Is In the Air’. It is a colourful, chaotic ride, which inevitably means there are a few bumps along the way.
It’s not easy capturing the heart and spark of the much-loved 1992 film which put Baz on the map, especially within the constraints of the compact Her Majesty’s Theatre stage. But Baz’s other half Catherine Martin – winner of an Aussie recordbreaking four Oscars for set and costume design – is in fine form here, dazzling the eyes with a spectacular set and millions of strategically placed sequins.
A giant disco ball spins overhead, throwing new light on the theatre. Set pieces are suitably whimsical, costumes, hair and fake tan – so much fake tan – shined, teased and buffed to full effect. Baz and Catherine don’t do understated, and with such ripe material who’d want it? The cast shake, rumble and roll, smiles plastered on, camp up turned to 11, and you can’t help but get swept away in it.
Musically it’s a little less exciting. Songs by pop-culture darlings Eddie Perfect and Sia fail to live up to high expectation, uncharacteristically lacking in wit and a consistency that a central composer might provide. Thank heavens then for Cyndi Lauper’s schmaltzy stayer ‘Time After Time’, all the cheesier for lead Scott Hastings’ (Thomas Lacey) reciting of the chorus while courting Fran (played by Phoebe Panaretos). The duo make sweet but slightly underwhelming leads, upstaged by seasoned pros Heather Mitchell as Scott’s manically-smiling mother Shirley and Robert Grubb as the monstrous Barry Fife, wig comically flapping in the climactic Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship.
It’s all great fun and if the sound track and script occasionally fall flat it’s quickly plastered over by more razzle dazzle. Strictly Ballroom the Musical is lightweight sure, but so feel-good and infectious it really doesn’t matter. Baz, take a bow.